CHICAGO -- For the first time in his 11 seasons as a hitting coach, Greg Walker got a look at the visitors' clubhouse during the Braves' optional workout on Thursday. He was the White Sox hitting coach during some of the franchise's most productive seasons with the bat, including the 2005 World Series championship run, and quite possibly stands as one of the most underappreciated figures in Chicago sports lore.
Even in his second year in charge of the Atlanta hitters, Walker still has a strong Chicago bond.
"After the Braves, the next place I go to check is the White Sox to see how they did," Walker said. "Over the years, I was here for 20 years almost, the Herm Schneiders, the Roger Bossards, the people that I was with, you spend more time with those people than you do your own family for eight months out of the year. They're like brothers to me. That doesn't go away."
Walker exchanged pleasantries around the batting cage with some of his White Sox charges and the new staff during the White Sox early workout, and had dinner with his wife, Carmen, and Paul Konerko, and his wife, Jennifer, Wednesday night before Konerko left on his Minor League rehab assignment in Birmingham. Konerko has always referred to Walker as his hitting coach, with no disrespect meant to current hitting coach Jeff Manto, and Walker takes pride in the "small part" he played in Konerko's tremendous career.
"It's not just here in Chicago. The players all over the league really respect him and how he goes about his business. I get asked questions about him almost every day," Walker said. "He's had a special career.
"I hope he gets extended. I hope he gets to play a few more years and gets close to the Hall of Fame. That would be nice. He's about as professional as it gets. He's a tactician, a technician when it comes to the game. He's a very smart guy, sometimes to a fault. He's a special baseball player. I think players around the league, they all respect him more so than the average fan knows."
When Walker left after the '11 season, despite Robin Ventura wanting him to stay on, he knew it was time for a new voice in the White Sox clubhouse. He wasn't sure if coaching was in his future, but the Braves' job was a perfect fit.
"Two places that I played and grew up watching I got to be the hitting coach, so it's good," Walker said. "I like it. I ended up in a good spot. I hated to leave, but it was time to go. I might have stayed too long actually, but I knew there would be a day when I would say, 'OK, I'm not the right guy for the job anymore,' and I figured it out that last year about halfway through.
"Going through all this stuff we went through over the years, some of it good, some of it not so good, it got to be that was where the focus was rather than the actual job itself. I'm grateful that I stayed here as long as I did. I'm grateful that we won the World Series. We won a lot of games, the players had great years and made money. The White Sox were really relevant here for a long time.
"I hadn't second-guessed my decision to leave at all," Walker said. "Without a doubt, it was one of the better decisions I made because it was the right thing to do."